Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Odd Journey of My Old Washing Machine

Once upon a time, I was working as a CSR in a call center, and as such I got to meet and know many people who also worked in the call center. Call centers can be odd environments, bringing out some rather interesting folks. While I cannot hope to catalog all of the weird people I've met, nor can I dream of revealing all of the interesting stories they had to tell, but I shall start here.

Shortly after I started working in the call center, I got into a bit of rouble when I helped too many coworkers owing to my old desk being by the help desk, so I was moved into the nether regions, and I sat across from a gal, who I'll call "Stephanie." "Stephanie" was a single mom of around 30 years old, who was a former beautician who got the job in part to one of her customers who was a manager at our employer. She wasn't an exceptionally good CSR, nor was she much of a beautician from what I heard.

Anyway, she was dating and having mixed luck. She started dating a dude, who wasn't too much of a catch from what she said, and in fact she wasn't at all enamoured with him. She kept talking about wanting to dump him but merely lacked the energy to do so. Well one
day she, knowing my somewhat odd affinity for all things Alf, mentioned he had some ALf stuff including a large stuffed Alf. I tried to politely continue conversing with her, but somehow she convinced herself she should go out with him another date to get the Alf for me. I was rather confused and nearly speechless, so I really didn't do much to stop her. Sure enough, a couple days later I had a lightly used stuffed Alf. Apparently the Alf was just the beginning.

Having enjoyed the rush of taking a treasured childhood memory from this schlep, "Stephanie" decided to get something for herself. You see this fella did have one thing going for him, he was an appliance salesperson, which means he could get her appliances at cost. I dunno when or how she got the Euro washer bug, but she had it, and she had him get her an Asko (Swedish made) front loading washer/drier set. The washer normally went for $1800 alone, and the dryer wasn't cheap either. Before long she was complaining about the washer, which owing to its frugal European design used a whole lot of time and very little detergent and water to clean clothes. Some cycles could take up to 3 hours, and being a vein impulsive type, that was too long.

Well the Alf and the washer/dryer must have been meant to be together, as it wasn't much thereafter when I, who had just moved to a place with hookups for a washer/dryer and didn't have either, was offered the set. I paid something like $650 for the pair, and I was delighted to have a stacked pair in my somewhat crowded apt. I also got a neat conversation piece, as the washer sounded like a jet reving up owing to its extremely high RPM spinning stainless drum.

Sadly the washer has since met its demise, and the Alf has been given to charity.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

21st Century Ghetto Lemonade Stand

A few weeks back, I was taking one of my nearly too many shortcuts, driving through my neighborhood to avoid the congestion and construction on a nearby major road. Along the way I passed two schools, a church, and a quaint reminder of a bygone era--a lemonade stand. It brought back fond memories of my childhood. I look back upon those simpler times, playing Lemonade Stand on an old Apple II in my elementary school. I was quite the Lemonade tycoon, able to eclipse anyone with my trademark, "charge $1000 a glass, as mom will always buy at least one", strategy. I never actually sat on my ass in the Florida sun and tried to sell real lemonade, that's what other kids did--I focused on my calling, cyber lemonade sales. Well the memory passed, and I drove on. The kids seemed disappointed I didn't stop, but it's not like they had a drive thru.

Zooming ahead to the closer to present, I recently was driving home, this time not on any short cut and venturing along a bigger road, and I saw something novel and quite unexpected. A tend with a few TVs, some rather ghettofied folk, and a sign up "Madden '07 Tournament $25". I'm sure it had all the proper permits, licenses, and permission, and I also suppose whoever had the extension cord plugged into their home knew about it (and isn't getting a government subsidised electric bill). It all was very brazen, only feet away from a major road, and it was also quite popular, especially given the entry fee. I was quite impressed, and I was a little envious of their entrepreneurial acumen.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Holy Grail has been found!

After years of searching and many unfulfilled journeys, I have successfully located the Holy Grail of caffeine. The arduous nature of my quest seems odd given the recent popularity of caffeine, first in high potency coffee drinks and later via energy drinks, but an ordeal it has been.

Yesterday morning, while wandering past the collection of refrigerated drinks at Big Bird, I saw they now have Jolt products. Jolt Cherry Bomb, Jolt Blue, and some new-fangled sugar free variety (sugar free Jolt?!?!?!?!) I didn't see any Jolt Cola, but I didn't look too hard. I was so excited, and I grabbed some Jolt Blue, then everything started getting jittery.

I feel that all is right in the world, or at least mostly so. Well, maybe just a bit more right.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

How Not to be a Presenter

I'm no expert, nor do I play one on TV, but after last week, I might as well be one. I spent last week in lovely Salt Lake City, Utah at a conference dedicated to eLearning, which happens to be by occupation, but I honestly never have been specifically trained in the tools, techniques, and terminology of the craft. I basically took up the job because I started tinkering with web design twelve years ago and somehow ended up at Nationwide---oh and the pay is not bad. History and Poly Sci grads can't be too choosy, so I'm quite happy. Don't get me wrong, I'm real good at what I do, and from my experiences, I have a gift for training. Anyway, I'd like to think I fall well short of what a presenter in a conference has to offer (especially being a generalist without a well defined niche). I'm wrong.

None of the people I flew cross country to see and my company paid good money for had anything real useful to offer. I saw some new tools and got an idea or two, but generally they were no thanks to anyone, just me stuck in a room with a wandering mind. Most work for companies they own, and from the likes of it, I'm overqualified to own an eLearning business of my own. They boast of slaying dragons I conquered years ago or never considered to be obstacles. They name drop lands far and wide where their services were needed (I don't consider dazzling 3rd world slave drivers a feat to be proud of), and they run in fear of the greatest evil of all, details. Most dress horribly, yet the greatest fault of all is their presentation skills. As a presenter, you must be ready to present. That starts with looking decent, but it also expends to verbal communication skills, well designed Powerpoints (being familiar with them is a plus), and lastly if you're gonna hook your personal laptop up to a projector, don't have all shorts of shit on it. From AIM clients, to bad music (Abba, Michael W Smith, Celine Deion), to saved email forwards, it just isn't becoming to share that. Oh, and if you're using your own company's software, make sure it doesn't cause BSODs all the time. Oh and by the way, if you're talking about podcasting, don't just show someone how to save an audio file.

In the end, I had to fill the little shoes that the presenters chose not to step into. In the aforementioned podcasting presentation, I had to explain why people do it, how it gets done, what tools are needed, and how to get it done quickly and efficiently in the real world. Lastly, I was able to talk about real world experience. Is this too much to ask of another? It must be, as before that ill-fated presentation the presenter asked a show of hands for those who had done it before, and then she said we (with our hands up) likely already knew a whole lot more than her. Are you kidding me? Why volunteer to present, and why do so on a subject you've only read about or dabbled with?

All was not lost, as I learned I'm at the top of my field instead of in the middle or worse, and I saw some new tools (some with promise and others to avoid), and I got to see some mountains. Sadly my quest therein did not lead to finding bigfoot, which ultimately makes this all a disappointment.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Free at Last, Free at Last

I'm writing this from the safety and security of Kentucky, where all in all, things are far less weird than Utah. It's scary when Kentucky is better than some alternative, but I suppose I already dealt with that in regards to Tennessee. By the time I publish this I'll likely be home in Columbus (currently stuck waiting for a delayed flight from Cincinnati to Columbus, but the Cincinnati airport is actually in Kentucky). Anyway, I've already written twice about Salt Lake City, especially it's weird quirks. I'll miss the mountains, and the dry air was really nice, but the weirdness, well that's definitely something I'll leave behind.

It started off normal enough, a giant Abercrombie Billboard (though I could do without the half naked dude on it). But besides that, it looked like some weird Sim City creation. From overheard, you could see the odd squareness of it all, in unnatural gridlike harmony. The city had areas devoted to industry, commerce, and residency, but they were strictly segregated, much like Sim City. Oh, there was no variety either. What was also odd was that there was one football stadium, one golf course, and one baseball stadium, and all kinda looked like what you'd see in Sim City--the airport too. A few years back, there was this odd tornado (they tend to mostly hit trailer parks in rural areas, not so common in cities), much like someone had turned disaster mode on. I'm glad there was no Godzilla sightings.

Trapped in Utah (continued)

Well after finding all the watered down beer (oh, and no wine at all) at grocery stores, I decided to embark on a quest to find the real McCoy. In Utah (like Soviet Russia) you have to get the real stuff from the government. There aren't many such stores in the state, but most of them are in Salt Lake City, so I was able to find one. It was quite a drive, and when I got there I drove past it, as it's deep into a shopping center with no sign on the street and only a small one on the building.

When I enter I see it's all utilitarian and there are no specials, gift boxes, or anything cool. Booze isn't much pricier than Ohio, but beer certainly is. Many six packs had one or more bottles missing, as someone could only afford a bottle or two. Beer is in fact sold by the bottle, and since any bottle of alcoholic beverage requires a special stamp. This per-bottle tax seems to hit beer the hardest, especially 12oz bottle of cheaper beer. Basically if you drink 1 liter bottles of high alcohol German beer your better off than Bud or something less exotic. Fortunately, the store did take credit cards (none of that lame cash only shit we have in Ohio), and they had a decent selection.

Now I just need to find a coffee shop. Seriously

Trapped in Utah

A few months back I stumbled upon some information regarding conferences in Boston, San Francisco, and Miami. Having suffered the indignity of a conference in Toledo last year, I figured I deserved better. I passed along hints to my boss and his boss about some of the opportunities available at these conferences, but they didn't need to do the math on the costs to dismiss those options as less than ideal. I quietly went back to my work, and I hoped that things would change.

Well things changed, as my boss' boss read up on this cheap conference in Utah. The registration fee for the one in Utah was half as much, and it included meals. Adding to the cheapness was lodging, which was in the form of dorms (the former Olympic village from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City). Well the writing was on the wall, I was doomed to Salt Lake City and not South Beach. Trying to make the most of it all, I booked a room in the university hotel, which must be nicer than the dorms, and I reminded myself that I'd eat well (though not necessarily the free fare included in the conference). After putting off the final arrangements for a while, I managed to find a non-stop flight to Salt Lake and a roughly direct flight back.

I certainly wasn't looking forward to the trip, mostly due to the fact I have something (and especially someone) to miss back home, but all-in-all the trip started well. After the aggravating experience of being squeezed into an airplane seat design for regular folk (I'm 6' 7"), I arrived in Salt Lake. The first sign that I was in Salt Lake was looking out of the window seeing mountains all around and a big ass lake. The plane landed, and I didn't quite see what I expected.

I imagined a big clean modern (though modest) airport to suit the Mormon culture and the fact that they hosted a recent Olympics and must have wanted to make a good impression (to boost tourism in future years). I also expected to see big families waiting for the arrival of their loved ones (picture five wives and fifteen kids waiting for dad to come home) or a bunch of missionaries. Well, none of that, and it kinda was dirty, old, and just not welcoming at all. At least my luggage arrived quickly.

Next was my rent a car experience. I never had to walk outside to get to a rent a car place, and since I know it rains and snows in Salt Lake City, it seemed quite retarded. After getting to the counter, I was surprised that the dude walked me all the way to my car (offered to lug my suit case) and let me pick my car. He was oddly nice and friendly, which says a lot coming from Ohio. This overall state of friendliness seems to be quite consistent in my travels. In fact, so far I haven't seen anyone get cut off, anyone flick someone off, hear any horns honking, or any profanity. FUCK, this is weird.

Also weird are the giant 3 story Smith's grocery stores, which sell everything in them. Wandering around seemed eerily familiar until I saw Big K cola and other Kroger branded stuff. I did see beer, but it was all watered down 3.2% beer. They even had 3.2% Boone's Farm, which is a travesty, since the whole point is to get wasted before you can taste how shitty the crap is. Oh, it all was pricey and no malt liquor. That led me to a journey, a certain right of passage, which I'll save for part 2.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I have a confession to make

I'm not really a pimp. I never have been, and despite my best efforts to look the part, people seemed to have noticed my lack of pimpage. I don't have a cane, a hat, or even a tiger print trimmed purple velour suit. I guess even more telling is my lack of hoes. I know ladies, even some gals who have a questionable level of selectivity in the men they chose, but none are hoes, and they certainly aren't my hoes. I guess my inner capitalist and my innate desire to be cool has driven me to my pimp ambitions, but they've done little to lead me to a successful endeavor as an entrepreneur of the flesh. Am I not savvy enough? Not cool enough? Perhaps I just don't know the right gals (I hesitate to use the term ladies when describing gals who put a price on nookie).

Maybe I just have trouble with the whole institution when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it. Sure the pimp rides and groovy attire are alluring, but the real intent behind it all is just a bit much for even me. I wouldn't let someone rent my kitties, piggies, puppies, or bunny so why would I do the same with a friend. I guess I could employ gals I didn't give a shit about, but to be honest, I can't stomach girls I don't give a shit about. Girls just aren't worth the trouble unless I can at least be friends with them.

So there it is. I'm just a poser who wants the superficial accoutrements of pimping without the harsh reality. Kinda like some redneck who'd rather get fatigues from some Army/Navy store or US Cavalry than enlist. Even if I had a pimp suit, a fly-ass hoopty, or a dope cane, I'd be no more than someone who'd buy a 4x4 to haul their mountain bike to and from a city park and keys stowed upon a carabineer. A sad collection of heavy duty equipment destined for a sad life on pavement and in the safety of pockets.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Home in Search of a Critter

I'm always interested in cryptozoology, and when it comes down to it, mysterious legendary (even if merly urban legendary) creatures are cool. They add a certain sense of identity and local color to a community, and they sure do wonders for tourism. From the Jersey Devil to the Loch Ness Monster these creatures are quite interesting, and whether yeti or sasquatch, I'm always thirsty for more information.
Living in Columbus, I can't help but feel isolated and alone. We don't have any mythical creatures. In Florida there was the Chupacabras, which always lurched in the darkness. Odd noises had an explanation and farmers had a good cover story for not protecting their critters from wild dogs. Locals here in Columbus have tried to spice things up, as quite a few have seen wild lions in Gahanna. Another attempt at change for the positive were the desires of local artists to build a mountain to break the monotony of the flatness by building a mountain. If this were to succeed, we would have a home for our mythical creature! Not a mountain lion, as that's not exactly so exotic. Not a man bear pig (been done already), but something similar. Sticking within the realm of reason, maybe a half jackass half white-trash creature. To make it real scary (and believable), it could be a buckeye fan. It would be big, smell, guzzle beer, and have one of those ugly buckeye necklaces (it would being a big white trash fella, it would likely be neckless as well). The jackass part would be a grey, and the white trash bits sunburnt, so it would possess the local colors. Possible existence of its 'existance' would be missing cheap ass beer from drive throughs (places where one can drive their car through a convenience store to buy beer from the comfort of a car--scary shit and quite common up here).